A group of Senate Republicans are suing the state over plans to count prisoners in legislative redistricting based their hometowns and not where they are incarcerated, saying the law is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in state Supreme Court in Albany, is the latest battle between Democrats and Republicans over how to draw legislative lines for state legislative and congressional seats in 2012. (More here and here.)
Last year, the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a law as part of the state budget to end the practice of counting prisoners in the communities in which they are incarcerated for redistricting purposes.
The move would mean thousands of prisoners would be counted in their hometowns, mainly downstate and in urban areas. It would likely lower the number of lawmakers representing various rural communities. Advocates of the measure said the old law was unfair because prisoners can’t vote, yet were used to boost upstate populations for political purposes.
In the lawsuit, Senate Republicans claim that the U.S. Census doesn’t allow for prisoners to be counted in their hometowns, and they dispute the inclusion of the law in the state budget bills.
The legislators who filed the lawsuit against the state Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment and the state Department of Correctional Services include Sens. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, Joseph Griffo of Utica, and Thomas O’Mara of Elmira. They all have prisons in their districts.
Democrats knocked Republicans over the lawsuit.
“Enactment of this legislation represented a major step forward for civil rights advocates demanding fair and equal representation,” said Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, D-Brooklyn, who sits on the task force.
He said, “A lawsuit at this time only serves to disrupt the task of creating new legislative districts developed through a participatory and transparent process driven by objective and fair criteria.”
Good-government groups are pressing Senate Republicans to support the establishment of an independent panel to draw district lines next year. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is knocking Senate Republicans for reneging on a pledge to appoint an independent commission.
Updated: Here’s the lawsuit.